TODAY   |  August 08, 2011

Is your child’s bagged lunch carrying disease?

Mayo on sandwiches, containers of yogurt, and water-soaked produce in plastic bags could make your child ill if not kept at the correct temperature. Learn how to safeguard your kids and their lunches with tips from NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman and nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 7:41 with food for thought as you begin to prepare another year of packing your kids' school lunches. According to a new study, many of those bagged or boxed meals are being kept in unsafe temperatures. Here with details now, we go to NBC 's chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman and also we have nutritionist Ellie Krieger . She's the author of the book " So Easy ." Let's try to hope that this will be easy this morning. Good both -- good morning to both of you.

Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hi, Annie.

Ms. ELLIE KRIEGER (Author, "So Easy"): Good morning.

CURRY: This new study looked at more than 700 preschoolers' lunch boxes and the results were significant.

SNYDERMAN: Yeah. University of Texas published in the journal Pediatrics and it found that 99 percent of the school lunches in a certain preschool group they looked at, were -- the food was kept at unsafe temperatures. And the reason that's important is that when your lunch is refrigerated, bacteria are sort of held in suspended animation. And when they get warm and moist enough, the bacteria can grow. And the concern is the kids will come home with vomiting and diarrhea. You think it's an infection, it may just be food poisoning that believe it or not started at home.

CURRY: My goodness. So what is the temperature we should aspire to? Is it always refrigerated?

SNYDERMAN: So less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit . And if you're going to have hot foods, it should be higher than 140 degrees. And any food kept in that no man's zone between those two should only be left out for two hours, not more.

CURRY: Hm. OK, now, some people will pack ice packs with their food.

SNYDERMAN: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: Sometimes -- some people will even freeze water bottles.

SNYDERMAN: And in this study, even ice packs didn't make a difference.

Ms. KRIEGER: Forty percent of the people in this study packed ice packs , so most of the people didn't.

SNYDERMAN: Right. So if you're going to do it, at least pack more than one ice pack . But we were talking before, really, you need refrigerators.

Ms. KRIEGER: Yes.

SNYDERMAN: Or big coolers and we need to start thinking about refrigeration in a way that we haven't before in our preschools and kindergartens.

CURRY: But bottom -- but bottom line with the number of kids in school , the chance of sort of depending on a refrigerator for your kids' lunch is pretty much -- pretty much a bad decision.

SNYDERMAN: Right.

Ms. KRIEGER: It needs to happen, though. They need to -- I think school administrators need to be aware that these things need to be refrigerated. Even getting a cooler and putting -- making an ice cooler, that would help. It doesn't require a lot of cost. So that's really important. I think, an important part of this.

SNYDERMAN: OK. But you can't have a cooler, obviously.

Ms. KRIEGER: Right.

SNYDERMAN: You have to think about it . Oh, OK. What can you go to school with that's not going to perish and that's what we really have out.

Ms. KRIEGER: Right.

CURRY: OK. Well, show us, Ellie . What are some options we can think about?

Ms. KRIEGER: OK. And there are really more options than you think.

CURRY: Oh good.

Ms. KRIEGER: So that's the good news.

CURRY: I love that.

Aseptic Packaged Milk Whole Grain Cereal

Ms. KRIEGER: So I'm going to make it easy. So basically, before you cut or peel a vegetable or a fruit, they're pretty much safe at room temperature at least for sure from the time you pack the lunch until lunchtime. So I love things like, in this lunch here I have snap peas, sugar snap peas. You can wash them, but they don't have to be peeled or cut. The same thing with whole fruits, a whole apple. Also, dried fruits , for example. So dried fruits , dried vegetables. Now they have dehydrated vegetables and so on in a lot of health food stores. Also, nuts. You want to check, of course, with your school . A lot of times they don't allow peanuts, but a lot of times they will allow certain tree nuts, but do check. Also, antiseptic -- aseptic packaged milks.

CURRY: Hm.

SNYDERMAN: Hm.

Ms. KRIEGER: So they're going to safe at shelf temperature. You want to cool them just for taste and keep them in a cooler pack, absolutely. But I love something like this. Like you can have cereal with milk for lunch.

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

SNYDERMAN: I think one thing is you look at everything here. There are basic whole foods or prepackaged foods. What I don't want parents to do is go out and get these prepackaged lunches that are just filled with fats and bad foods and a lot of preservatives. So start to think about the basics of foods. What you and I would take perhaps on a hiking trip.

CURRY: That's right .

Ms. KRIEGER: Exactly.

CURRY: But you're also making the point that you cut up the fruit or you cut up the vegetables or whatever, you're actually going to introduce a certain amount of bacteria.

Ms. KRIEGER: Right. Exactly.

CURRY: That without refrigeration is a problem. Let's get a...

Ms. KRIEGER: And that's a big point, actually. So at home, a lot of bacterial contamination starts at home.

CURRY: Hm.

Ms. KRIEGER: So when you're preparing a lunch, really start right there. Clean hands, clean surfaces. So you're making, say, an almond butter sandwich here. Make sure you're work -- doing that on clean surfaces and that's really, really important. And that will keep it safe at room temperature . Again, there's a soy milk that's in the aseptic packaging. Cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes are my daughter's favorite and they certainly stay well at room temperature . Apple sauce, banana. Here, more dried fruit . And also these hard cheeses. So cheddar cheese, Colby Jack . If they're in prepackaged, individual wraps, they will be safe at room temperature .

CURRY: Sandwiches with mayonnaise?

SNYDERMAN: No. Skip it .

CURRY: No more.

SNYDERMAN: No. Dry sandwiches.

CURRY: Over.

Ms. KRIEGER: Or maybe -- unless you know for sure that you can have a lot of -- this is actually all freezer packs in this particular one.

SNYDERMAN: But I think with the data that came out this last week, only 1 percent of school lunches being at the right temperature, play it safe.

Ms. KRIEGER: Yes.

CURRY: All right.

SNYDERMAN: Keep your mayonnaise for at home on the weekends.

Ms. KRIEGER: Or with you.

CURRY: Good advice. Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Ellie Krieger , trying to help our kids. Thank you so much this morning.

Ms. KRIEGER: Thank you.